Zimbabwe Cabinet: the Good, Bad, Ugly and the Opportunity




President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu (right) share a lighter moment. — Picture by Kudakwashe Hunda

HARARE,– That President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s first Cabinet was going to have some cronyism was expected. Loyalty points were always going to be handed out to the military and to party allies.

However, what has horrified many is Mnangagwa’s failure to balance that urge to reward loyalty with at least some show of commitment to the reforms he has promised. Mnangagwa had raised hopes after his well-received inauguration speech, and his pledges to weed out corruption and to run a “lean” government.

But his Cabinet has squandered all the goodwill he had generated, and cheered the critics who had said he was no different from the man he ousted. There are some good, bad and ugly things in his Cabinet.

GOOD

Winston Chitando as Mines Minister is perhaps the brightest spot on a dismal Cabinet list. Until his appointment, he was executive chairman of Mimosa, one of Zimbabwe’s largest mining firms. He is also current chairman of Hwange Colliery, and was the president of the Chamber of Mines between 2011 and 2013.

The industry will be happy to see one of their own finally take charge of the ministry, which up to now had in recent years been led by ministers who had strained relations with mines.

Patrick Chinamasa is back as Finance Minister. It is not a popular choice among the public, given his role in the cash crunch by issuing billions of Treasury Bills and electronic dollars. The public was anxious to see the back of him.

But we are keen to see what Chinamasa does now that he is free of Robert Mugabe’s shackles. Mnangagwa is keen to re-engage with international funders, and he has obviously appointed Chinamasa to continue his reform plan, which had gone cold. Chinamasa is unpopular with the masses, but well regarded by development partners.

Mnangagwa also likely considered that Chinamasa had already covered much ground in preparing the 2018 budget, which will be presented in a just week. This made chances of a new Finance Minister unlikely.

With Mugabe gone, Chinamasa has no excuses now on his planned reforms. Terence Mukupe, a former CEO of the local arm of investment bank Renaissance Capital, is his deputy. Mukupe, an MP, is tainted by claims, which he denied, of smuggling fuel.

July Moyo is now Local Government Minister. He is Mnangagwa’s senior strategist, and was never going to be left out in the dishing out of loyalty points. In 2011, Moyo was contracted by the new government of South Sudan to build its local government structures from scratch.

That experience may be useful. However, that Mnangagwa left the redundant Provincial Ministers in place does not point to the radical change in local governance that is needed.

Professor Amon Murwira is Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology. He is currently head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at UZ. He has a PhD in Geo-Information Science from the Netherlands. He is quite the science buff; he has helped government use remote sensing technology to assess crops and in livestock tracking for disease control.

His profile indicates he will be quite different from his hyperactive predecessor, Jonathan Moyo. Still, it is a positive that Mnangagwa looked outside the party for fresh talent.

Another new face is Professor Clever Nyathi, a former pro-Vice Chancellor of NUST, who is now Labour Minister. He has quite a long CV. He has worked for years with UNDP, advising a number of countries – from Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho to Namibia and Zimbabwe – on conflict resolution.

If Chinamasa is finally allowed to fix the Government wage bill, which will mean cleaning up the bloated payroll and even laying off staff, Nyathi’s role at Labour, and his conflict resolution skills, will be under sharp focus.

There are a few other good points. We now only have six deputies, from 25, although Mnangagwa should have done away with them altogether to show commitment to his pledge to go lean. The 22 ministers are less than before, but still far too many.

THE BAD

In his inauguration speech, Mnangagwa said it will no longer be “business as usual”. However, there is enough deadwood in his Cabinet to start just a dull fire.

By reappointing Obert Mpofu and Lazarus Dokora, two men who are among the most despised public officials in Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa is showing how tone deaf he can be.

Mpofu has zero moral credibility, and giving him responsibility over crime busting, makes a mockery of Mnangagwa’s reform promises.

The police force is due for reform, and even if it is the army that will do it, Mpofu cannot be the face of any new police service to emerge.

Dokora is a bad communicator and the butt of social media jokes. His curriculum reform was poorly handled; almost a year after it came into effect, many schools still don’t have the materials needed and teachers are still trying to figure it out.

Does Simon Khaya Moyo have the stamina to push through the billion-dollar investments needed in Zimbabwean energy? Does David Parirenyatwa have any new ideas to invest in healthcare? And what, exactly, is Simbarashe Mumbengegwi’s job as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Monitoring Government Programmes? What does a Minister of Scholarships do while others are at work?

It seems an old boys’ club. Yes, boys, because there are only three women in Cabinet.

And can some of the teams work together? Remember in 2015, when Mugabe read the wrong speech in Parliament? Who can forget the comically verbose exchange that ensued between George Charamba and now Information Minister Chris Mutsvangwa, who blamed Charamba for the debacle.

Charamba, wrote Mutsvangwa on whatsapp, was a “presidential sinecure of a state created by others.”

“Get back your youthfulness you super war veteran, the Rambo who won the war single handedly,” Charamba retorted. “We will pluck those feathery horns if you take matters too far.”

It won’t be long before egos clash and feathers fly over there.

We don’t really need a Ministry of Information and Publicity anyway. Mnangagwa needs to make it a department in his office, coordinating information for other ministries. Mutsvangwa, however, has often come across as progressive, albeit sometimes too ill-tempered, and one hopes he can find a way to be a calm spokesman for the Government through what will be a key period.

There was no clarity on Indigenisation, a key issue for Mnangagwa if he is to follow through on his promise to attract investment. Will it be under Youth Affairs, headed by Sithembiso Nyoni, or taken up by Chinamasa or Industry Minister Mike Bimha?

On Thursday, Chinamasa said the indigenisation law would be “reviewed”. Mnangagwa has a chance to make a bold statement by bringing clarity to the issue.

THE UGLY

The appointment of military men only confirms what many knew but were refusing to accept; Zimbabwe is under military rule.

Air Force Commander Perrance Shiri is a farmer of note and was the head of the Command Agriculture technical team. So his appointment as Agriculture Minister is logical, but only in the dark context of the new reality of army control.

Major General Sibusiso Moyo, who became the face of the military operation that deposed Mugabe, is now Foreign Affairs Minister. It is a hard message that the new rulers are sending to the world.

THE CHANCE

Cabinet was going to be Mnangagwa’s first big test, and he has botched it up. He has wasted a good chance to endear himself to voters who were tired of Mugabe and the opposition options, and were willing to give him a chance. He could have pleased both his allies and Zimbabweans, but he went more with rewarding loyalty.

Still, all is not lost. The President still has a chance to redeem himself, if he can somehow find a way to whip his old-new Cabinet to, for once, do some real work and produce quick and visible results. He has very few chances left, and the window of opportunity is closing fast. – The Source